Few brands have been as iconic in their day as Gerber was with baby food when it was feeding the boomer generation. A new marketing campaign for Gerber, built around improvements in the spout on its puree pouches, underscores both current opportunities for the brand as well as how much times have changed.
A generation ago, Gerber had about a three-quarters share of the US baby food market, as its tiny glass jars bearing the Gerber baby’s face and filled with various pureed foods were a staple in American households. But today’s millennial parents have taken to startup brands such as Plum and Happy Baby that promise an all-natural approach to nourishing their infants, featuring simple and new types of ingredients, and pouches of purees as an alternative to traditional jars.
As a result, Gerber’s share of the baby food market has slid steadily, now to about 61 percent of sales in U.S. retailers, according to SymphonyIRI data for the 52 weeks ended March 19. Long-time rival Beech-Nut has about 9 percent while upstart Plum has 8 percent.
Of course, nearly two-thirds of the $1.6 billion US baby food market is still a commanding position. And Gerber parent Nestlé, which acquired it a decade ago, is giving the brand formidable new support.
“It’s been challenging as more competitors have come into the market,” Aileen Stocks, Gerber’s chief marketing officer, told brandchannel. “But our mission and focus remains the same.”
Right now, that focus is on an innovative new technology called Smart Flow that Gerber has brought to the pureed-pouch products that it introduced a few years ago. In its latest campaign, Gerber highlights what it calls “pouch fails” in which toddlers easily create messes using other pouches, messing them up and frustrating parents—and shows what its Smart Flow innovation can do.
With Smart Flow, Gerber has redesigned the spout in various diameters to accommodate the varying textures and flow rates of different kinds of purees and also has smoothed the spout in various ways to make it easier on kids’ mouths.
Stocks told us more about about growing the ultimate American baby brand in the Q&A below:
brandchannel: How is Gerber positioned in the baby food market overall these days, vs. traditional competitors such as Beech-Nut as well as the new wave of the last decade such as Plum and Happy Baby?
Aileen Stocks (right): The company will be 90 years old this coming year. I’ve been working with the brand for the last 10 years. We’ve seen a lot of changes in the category, but what remains consistent is we have this really strong commitment to happy and healthy babies. When we think about [brand founder] Dorothy Gerber, she needed to serve a need. We like to call her the original mom entrepreneur. She met a real need. Ninety years later we’re very much true to that mission.
bc: How do millennial moms perceive Gerber?
Stocks: Our moms actually see us as reliable and authentic—the first brand that they think of when they come into the category. And one mom said we must be doing something right if we’re still here after 90 years. We know that we go above and beyond to do anything for babies. Moms view us as a trusted partner. We go beyond providing baby food. They trust us for practical tools and advice for their babies’ development.
Dorothy used to hand-write answers to questions that moms would write into her. In the history of the [brand’s] Parents Resource Center [at its headquarters] in Fremont [Michigan], she was the first to hand-write answers to questions. She had a column in a magazine. We have lactation educators, dietitians and a sleep consultant on staff, ready to answer questions any time day or night.
bc: Where does Smart Flow come in and why?
Stocks: It’s a great example of that. It’s a new format in the category and [moms] love it. They were looking for a pouch that would reduce the mess. It always starts with [that kind of] consumer insight: understanding what moms are looking for. We wanted to better understand how it felt for a baby. Our R&D folks actually created a pouch that was in proportionate size for adults as it was to a toddler, so they could actually be in the shoes of a toddler.
Also, they came up with gloves that restricted the movement so R&D folks could feel the movement that a toddler would. These gloves helped them to feel what it was like to actually handle a pouch for a toddler. You see these great ‘pouch fails’ where the food gets all over them.
bc: So in solving a problem for babies you win over parents?
Stocks: We looked at it as an opportunity to take our product and technology to the next level. We had to think about a couple of things. First was matching the spout opening that was the right size. Some products are thicker or thinner in texture. We wanted to control the flow but not frustrate the child at the same time.
We don’t want to have the child working so hard to get the product out. It was matching the diameter of the spout to the product and to the effort of the child. It’s the diameter of the spot and making sure we match it to the products inside. We did a lot of work to make sure we got the diameter right. We had to make sure the spout had rounded edges so it would be much more gentle on the toddler’s mouth when they’re eating.
bc: Where is the Gerber brand in terms of the other things that moms care about these days, such as simple ingredient lists and transparency?
Stocks: We believe in those things too. We know that’s important to today’s parents. We only source our ingredients from suppliers that have high standards. We can trace some fruits and vegetables back to the field where they were grown and in some cases the actual row, and we’re telling some of those stories. We also are putting food equations on packages so moms and dads can see what’s in there, such as “half an apple and four blueberries,” and they appreciate that.
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